Matters – Sub-disciplines
Dom Hernler continues to push the vscene in his own unique way. photo: cortese
by Josh Palma
For quite a while, boat riding was seen as the only “real” way to wakeboard. Sure boat athletes would use the cable as an offseason conditioning tool or as a way to improve their rail riding, but many purists didn’t consider it to be true wakeboarding. But as parks and winching have grown and obstacles have become insanely legit (the Red Bull Rising High obstacle likely represents the pinnacle of this progression), many riders now focus solely on park and rail riding. Park riding has grown so substantially in recent years that it’s now considered its own discipline under the general umbrella of wakeboarding. This transition didn’t happen overnight and we owe gratitude to those who paved the way for it to happen. Thanks to that crew (Tom Fooshee, Raph Derome, Daniel Grant, James Windsor, and Shredtown, to name a few), wakeboarding is currently experiencing more international visibility and high-profile exposure than ever before. Why? The obvious answer is because park riding effectively lowers barriers to entry and spurs participation within a broader demographic. Park riders now have their own series of events, full-length feature films, and sponsorship agreements that are comparable to boat athletes’ contracts.
What’s crazy to me is that a select group of riders has continued to excel in both the boat and park/winch realms. The riders I’d include on that short list would be Raph, Bob, Rathy, Fooshee, and Oli. Aside from those guys, I feel there’s still a pretty concrete distinction between boat and park athletes. Those few freaks are somehow able to blur the lines a bit though. If you assume that the incredibly versatile riders mentioned above are anomalies, then you begin to wonder whether our sport is growing to a degree where it can actually sustain multiple sub-disciplines. We have seen other action sports (skate, snow, and moto in particular) compartmentalize as they evolve and expand. Very few pipe athletes in snow and skate crossover and also do slopestyle and street respectively. This subdivision is further evidenced in the Real Wake video entries. Three riders only rode boat in their sections, two riders rode park and urban winch, one rode boat and some limited park, and the other two (aforementioned freaks Rathy and Raph) rode everything. Daniel Grant even took the diversity a step further by throwing wakeskating into his video. Obviously, much of that was strategic for each rider’s section; as Mike Dowdy put it, why would he want park or winch tricks in his section when that’s not his focus. It makes much more sense to dedicate his 90 seconds exclusively to boat riding, where few can compete with him. There’s no denying that Mike Dowdy is a sponsored professional rider focused almost entirely on boat riding, while Daniel Grant is a sponsored professional rider who has probably ridden boat less than a dozen times. So are we setting the stage for a similar type of growth and differentiation within wake? Sure seems that way.
The 2015 Wakeboard World Series has provided more evidence that this is likely where our sport is heading. Rails have now been removed from the boat events as officials and athletes alike feel that they just don’t work at boat contests. Riders are limited due to the fact that they are hitting the rails at 23+ mph, they are using boat-oriented boards, and because they often break fins on rail hits. Hitting rails under those circumstances simply doesn’t represent our sport in the best light. Rail and park riding is much better represented at a Wake Park Triple Crown series or one-off events like FISE and the Shredtown Jamboree.
As long as our sport can sustain such differentiation, it seems like the added diversity will only help the activity continue to grow. Over the next several years it will be interesting to see whether young riders gravitate to boat, park, winch, or a combination of the three. Young aspiring pros might be more enticed based on sponsorship opportunities and dollars, while young weekend warriors might just do whatever is easiest and most readily available. Therein lies another advantage for the park scene’s rapid growth. More than anything, more riders on the water is never a bad thing. Who knows, with the recent payouts in wakesurf events, some young shredders might go another direction entirely. At any rate, it’s very encouraging that the wake industry has so many options for those looking to get involved out on the water.